Joint Statement from PEN America, AAC&U: Legislative Restrictions on Teaching and Learning Violate Academic Freedom and Threaten Higher Ed’s Autonomy
June 8, 2022 — Today, PEN America and the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) published a joint statement raising alarm about the recent spread of legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach, calling attention to the grave threats these measures pose for shared governance, academic freedom, college and university accreditation, and the institutional autonomy enjoyed by colleges and universities nationwide.
Since January 2021, 70 bills intended to impose restrictions on teaching and learning in colleges and universities have been introduced in 28 states. The majority of these restrictions have focused on subjects related to race, racism, or gender that legislators regard as divisive or otherwise objectionable. Seven of these bills have become law in seven states, where 42 million Americans currently reside.
In their statement, PEN America, which has defended freedom of expression for more than 100 years, and AAC&U, a global membership organization representing more than 1,000 higher education institutions in the United States, said that the imposition of political restrictions on curricula “usurps and unduly constrains” the faculty’s role in instruction, scholarship, and research. Such measures also deprive students of a liberal education that exposes them to a wide range of perspectives.
“Any legislative effort to circumscribe freedom of inquiry and expression in order to hew to political directives and agendas denies students essential opportunities for intellectual growth and development,” the statement continued. “In doing so, such an effort undermines our society’s democratic future.”
Read the full statement from PEN America and the AAC&U.
“Legislators who attack the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of students and faculty are waging war against open inquiry itself,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America. “No one should allow our First Amendment rights to be sacrificed for the sake of sowing divisions and scoring political points.”
“Current efforts to constrain open inquiry strike at the very heart of the academic enterprise, grounded in the unfettered pursuit of the truth and free exchange of ideas,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities. “Particularly troubling are ‘divisive concepts’ laws attempting to silence discussions around race and gender. Such legislative moves threaten to undermine the principles of equity and inclusion that are fundamental to the democratic mission and public purpose of higher education in the United States.”
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.
The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is a global membership organization dedicated to advancing the democratic purposes of higher education by promoting equity, innovation, and excellence in liberal education. Through our programs and events, publications and research, public advocacy and campus-based projects, AAC&U serves as a catalyst and facilitator for innovations that improve educational quality and equity and that support the success of all students. In addition to accredited public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities and state higher education systems and agencies throughout the United States, our membership includes degree-granting higher education institutions in more than twenty-five countries as well as other organizations and individuals. To learn more, visit www.aacu.org.